Attention - The most valuable resource we do not control

September 3, 2020

Have you ever found yourself scrolling through the posts on social media for far too long? Or being caught by an unconscious desire to open up your phone for no apparent reason other than to distract yourself? How were your energy levels after such activities?

The Perils Of Content Rich Environment

“...a wealth of information creates poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among overabundance of information resources that might consume it", Nobel Laureate and economist Herbert Simon, 1971.

This statement was made almost 50 years ago and yet its validity has never been more true. We live in a era of unprecedented access to information. Technology companies have become adept at leveraging proven habit forming strategies to get us hooked on scrolling through endless posts and following endless rabbit holes of content. We love the convenience of instantaneous answers to any question that pops in our head, entertaining ourselves with silly videos and staying informed on relevant topics. But what is the price we pay for this convenience? Is it all free or are we paying with something far more valuable than money?

Losing control over our most valuable resource

We all get on average 14 to 19 waking hours in a day. Every morning I wake up with the intention to make the most of my day. However very rarely do I end up spending even half of those hours on the activities that bring lasting fulfillment. What gets in the way? More often than not, I spend a chunk of my day escaping stressful thoughts and emotions by consuming content that at best tangentially relevant to my personal or professional pursuits. I get instantaneous dopamine hit every time I find an interesting post, video, article to consume, and I lose valuable moments I could be spending on activities that actually matter and bring lasting fulfillment, like writing this blog post for example.  

Information Consumption Hamster Wheel

"The best way to capture moments is to pay attention", Jon Kabat-Zinn

Since the start of COVID quarantine as many others I spend a lot of time by myself, faced with thoughts, emotions and  narratives that dominate my head space. My phone and laptop are portals to the outside world and its only natural that they capture a lot of my attention. On the one hand, I am grateful for the opportunity to stay connected to what is happening in the world and interact with friends and loved ones that don't share my physical space. On the other, these portals have become convenient escape pods from facing uncomfortable questions that never get fully resolved: "How bad will things get before getting better?", "What if my folks get COVID?"  Lately I started to pay attention to these thoughts and question, how often I go to these portals to escape from internal turmoils, instead of looking for answers I care about?

Getting control back.

The fact is that despite my best intentions, I allow a meaningful amount of time to be consumed by activities that offer instantaneous yet fleeting relief from stressful narratives and little to lasting fulfillment. The process of deploying my attention needs to be understood and transformed from the ground up.  Noticing the thoughts and emotions that trigger desire to escape is the first necessary step in regaining agency in the process of allocating my most valuable resource - attention.

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